Home » Flash fiction » Short story: “Urban magic”

Short story: “Urban magic”

A fragment of a story born from a night on the subway, watching the city outside the window.



Urban magic



The golden light from the multitude of street lamps reflected off the dark waters below, that very same darkness that had previously frightened her so much was now a thing of beauty. The black night that surrounded the well-lit subway car as it trundled its way through the city was dotted by lights everywhere, golden yellows, burning reds and solid cold blues, every one of them a street lamp, a window, or a lit sign. It was not unlike the Christmases she remembered from her childhood, when her father would go nuts with the lights that decorated their house, both inside and out, to her mother’s chagrin, because the utilities bill the months after that would always be rather horrendous.

The subway car itself, the glowing snake that burrowed itself into the ground, only to emerge into the open air to cross an expanse of water or a huge divide over buildings and streets, smelled of a mixture of stale beer and cigarettes, with a distinct top note of too much cheap perfume and after shave…In other words, it smelled just like Friday night. The car filled with happy people celebrating freedom after a long work week by riding the golden serpent to some exciting place in the city. This was a smell she had found alien when she had first moved here, but now it had become a comfort to her…It smelled like home.

The night which had scared her before, back in the town where she had grown up, was something different here in the city. Here the night hid her; the night protected her, as it wrapping her up in a crowd of others, providing a safety in numbers.

Often she would head out like this on her Friday nights, she’d wrap herself up in her cloak of night and darkness after she’d had dinner at her apartment and follow the crowd of people into the subway station. Then she would ride the train back and forth; follow the ebb and flow of people, watch how they would get progressively more drunken, loud and happy, until the wee hours of the morning, when she’d take the last train back to her end of the city, walk through deserted streets under the cold light of street lamps and then fall into her own bed exhausted.

The other women at work would ask her if she wasn’t afraid of being robbed or raped or worse, but she’d offer only cryptic responses, sometimes allude to some company she always had with her that would always kept her safe from such things. They would not understand such simple concepts as “protective charms”. For them, such things, like magic, charms and spells were the thing of fairy tales and fantasy books, they were things practiced by actors in movies and on television, always with some grain of truth, but never, ever showing the full truth of it. If everyone knew how simple it was, then everyone would try it and then it would lose its potency, its power. There was so little magic left in the world as it was, it was a more precious resource than even oil or fresh water, both still much overused and abused today.

It seemed like a selfish thing, to keep this to herself, but it was more than fear of increased competition for a rapidly shrinking resource that drove her to secrecy, but there was also the fear of those who would hear the word “witch” and think of evil, something that needed to be gone, removed from the world. Some of the stories of witch trials had been exaggerated, but left in the history books as a warning, that as long as they had to co-exist with those who did not believe in the magic of the world, they would have to be careful. And that was why she had had to move this place, to the city, in this large place where she could walk through the crowds unnoticed, only one of many strange characters that called this city “home”.

Back in her town, where she had known all the faces, where they had known her, “Linda’s girl”, there had already been some alarming hints that some of her actions had been noticed, that some of her communions with nature to harness its power had been noticed by prying eyes. Eyes that had not understood and had not liked what they had seen. When the first anonymous notes, filled with thinly veiled threats, arrived in her mailbox she knew it was time to remove herself from her childhood home. Since her mother had passed only last spring, there had been no one left in town to leave a forwarding address to, which made her hope that she had escaped with no risk of being followed to her new home.

Here in the city, with far less nature and green growing things it had been harder to connect to the flow of magic, but soon enough she had adapted, learned to find the currents and pools that existed even in this jungle of concrete and stone. Her favorite place to be was a cafe in the old town center where a small pool had formed, where she would have a very expensive, but delicious cup of tea, while drinking in the magic of the place at the same time.

But it was during the night that the flows of magic became visible to her trained eyes. It followed the lines and dots of light that shone in the starless night and when she rode the subway on a Friday night she could feel it flow through her and mingle with the energy of the people in the car. It was far more intoxicating than any alcoholic beverage could ever be.

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